You probably know by now that Justin Smoak was demoted to AAA Tacoma a few days ago. Mike Carp has been recalled in his place.
It has been a frustrating year for Smoak as he has hit just .199, 13 homeruns, and 38 rbis. His mere six doubles on the year has led to a .320 slugging percentage which ranks worst among MLB first baseman by 30 points. His OPS is third worst in all of baseball and is worst among first baseman by 80 points. Ironically enough, the Mariner’s previous first baseman, Casey Kotchman, is the owner of the second worst OPS among first baseman. His .211 BABIP is also the worst in all of the majors.
Considering this year’s poor performance and a frustrating 2011 campaign, Smoak is certainly deserving of this demotion. The thing that has frustrated me about Smoak is that he constantly reminds us of the impressive ability the Mariners worked so hard to acquire.
Smoak was originally the eleventh overall pick in the 2008 draft. His name is surrounded by currently successful players such as Eric Hosmer, Buster Posey, Jemile Weeks, Brett Lawrie, and Lance Lynn and by rising prospects such as Yonder Alonso, Christian Friedrich, and Aaron Hicks.
Smoak sped through the minor leagues and was ranked Baseball America’s 13th best prospect going into the 2010 season. Mid-way through the year, the Mariners traded for him in exchange for Cliff Lee. Seattle saw a big, strong, well-built 23 year old with a beautiful swing from both sides of the plate and good plate vision.
Despite Smoak’s high ceiling, he has done little since dawning a Seattle uniform. As a major leaguer, he has hit .215 and averaged a homerun in every 27 at bats. His K% has been 22.3% and he has been prone to slumps in which he has seemed helpless at the plate.
The thing that aggravates me the most about Justin Smoak is the fact that he will go on sudden tears in which he looks like the player we gave up a Cy Young caliber pitcher for. This May, he hit six homeruns. In April of 2011, he averaged a homerun every 18 at bats and hit .284. His bat tends to heat up and shows us why we worked so hard to bring him to Seattle, and then he makes us all think that he will finally turn around his career and become the all-star he was supposed to be. Just as he has our mouths watering, hoping for more, his bat will instantly go cold.
This has been the case for each of the last two and half years, and I am getting sick of it. I have defended Smoak a lot in the past, but his consistently poor performance is unacceptable. We can’t spend another year or two waiting for Smoak to possibly figure out how to hit.
Smoak will likely spend a few weeks in Tacoma, and will then get another chance in the MLB. If he doesn’t show real signs of improvement and promise for the future after his recall to the majors, I think it will be time to look elsewhere for the future of first base here.
That being said, don’t count Smoak’s year as a failure quite yet. I know that I have been pretty harsh on him in this article, but I am optimistic for his return to Seattle, whenever than may be. So far this year, guys who have spent time in AAA before coming up to the Mariners such as Casper Wells, Franklin Gutierez, and Blake Beavan have all been able to turn their fortunes around post-demotion. In the past, Smoak has looked pretty good after spending time down in Tacoma.
Smoak has had a tough year, but stay optimistic for his return to the Mariners. It may be crazy, but the past seems to be in his favor.
FYI: Smoak went 1-3 with a walk in Tacoma last night.